It’s amazing to me how quickly fall came. It’s like it was 90 degrees one day, and 50 the next. I like fall a lot, but I hate how short it is. But when it cooled off, I was thinking about food (as I very often do, especially when I’m consoling myself over the weather) and about how I can now make pasta (thanks to our wonderful new pasta roller), and I suddenly had this craving for a warm, cozy dish that I haven’t had in years.
When I say years, I mean it; I really don’t know when I last had meatballs. I have a vivid memory of eating a meatball at a festival at my day care when I was probably around 4 or so. I loved it. I thought it was amazing. And that’s my last meatball memory. I probably had Ikea’s meatballs when I was a kid when I went there with my mom. But it’s probably been around 20 years since I’d had a meatball, so it was sort of a strange thing to pop into my head. When I was vegetarian, the idea of meatballs really kind of disgusted me. And I’ve never really liked meat in Italian pasta dishes. But suddenly it seemed like a really, really good idea to make meatballs and spaghetti from scratch.
Oh my goodness was it ever a good idea! I still wasn’t terribly eager to do a beef meatball and had intended to make turkey meatballs. But when I saw this baked chicken meatball on Smitten Kitchen, I knew I was going to have to put turkey meatballs on hold for the time being.
The sauce recipe we got from Ina Garten. It’s loaded with red wine, making it absolutely delicious. Besides, you’re going to need to have plenty of wine on hand to serve with the meal to congratulate yourself on the fabulousness that you just created.
It may have taken a while to make all these things, but it was so satisfying to make everything, including the pasta, from scratch. These massive meatballs and the wine laden sauce are a perfect way to warm your heart on a cool fall or winter day. Buon appetito!
Baked Chicken Meatballs
Meatballs adapted from Gourmet by way of Smitten Kitchen
Sauce adapted from Ina Garten
Deb, on Smitten Kitchen, points out that you could also make miniature versions for a party. I think that’s a fabulous idea.
Gourmet suggests you serve these with pepperonata, a marinated roasted red pepper antipasto (you can find the pepperonata accompaniment here), but I wanted meatballs and spaghetti dang it, so that’s what we did.
These meatballs are big. We took pictures with 3 meatballs for the serving, but then decided that that might be too much. We had plenty of pasta, so we ended up with 6 servings. We doubled the sauce recipe, so we had a ton of sauce – enough for an 8th serving of plain ol’ spaghetti and sauce and that still left enough to use for making pizza. You may be able to get away with halving the sauce recipe below (thereby taking it back down to its original size). The number of servings is really up to you and your stomach.
For the Meatballs
3 slices Italian bread, torn into small bits (1 cup)
1/3 cup milk
3 ounces sliced pancetta, finely chopped (you can swap in Canadian Bacon if you want)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large egg
1 pound ground chicken
2 tablespoons tomato paste, divided*
3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onion (1 onion)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 cup good red wine
2 (14-ounce) cans pureed tomatoes
2 (14-ounce) cans chopped or diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Make the meatballs: Preheat oven to 400°F with a rack in the upper third of the oven. Soak the bread in milk in a small bowl until softened, about four minutes.
Render the pancetta in the olive oil for a couple of minutes. Throw in the onion and garlic in with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook until onion is softened, about 6 minutes. Cool slightly.
Squeeze bread to remove excess milk, then discard milk. Lightly beat the egg in a large bowl, then combine with chicken, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, pancetta mixture, bread, and parsley. Form 12 meatballs and arrange in a 4-sided sheet pan or roasting dish.
Stir together 1 tablespoon each of tomato paste and olive oil and brush over meatballs (the paste and oil does not mix all that well – just do your best and smoosh it on), then bake in upper third of oven until meatballs are just cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes.
Make the sauce: Heat the olive oil in the same pan. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, and cook for 1 more minute. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all the brown bits in the pan, until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, salt, and pepper. Simmer for 20-30 minutes.
Serve the meatballs and sauce over cooked spaghetti and serve with grated Parmesan.